The theme of the entire Bible is redemption—God redeeming us from our sin. The Old Testament gives us picture after picture of redemption. God killed an animal to cover the sin of Adam and Eve. But, in Genesis chapter 22, we find an even clearer picture of redemption. It is the story of when God commanded Abraham to go and sacrifice his son in the area of Mt. Moriah (what is today Jerusalem). How these words must have gripped Abraham’s heart: God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about” (Gen 22:2).
I used to wonder about this story of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice his one and only son. The story didn’t make sense to me. How could God who is against human sacrifice ask Abraham to do this abominable thing? The story reveals that he only asks Abraham, who was willing to complete the task in amazing faith and obedience—but he stopped him a split second short of killing his son. However, in this story, we see what God did for us. He did what was not right—sacrificing his son for us. He never stopped short of killing his son. This story is a preview of Calvary two millenniums later.
Human sacrifice was not foreign to Abraham; he would have known of it in Ur and Canaan. The very idea of killing his son and then burning his body as an offering had to be impossible for his mind to grasp. Yet in spite of all the questions, Abraham did not doubt God. After three days’ journey, they were able to see the place where they needed to be in the distance. Abraham told his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship, and then we will come back to you” (Gen 22:4-5).
What completely amazes us is that Abraham believed they would come back, both he and Isaac. Even if he sacrificed Isaac, God would raise him because how else could God complete his promise to make a great nation through Abraham’s descendants.
I believe the heart of this story is in these words:
“Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided’” (Gen 22:13-14).
Abraham arranged the wood, tied Isaac (a willing sacrifice), and then took the knife in his hand to slay his son. A split second before he brought the knife down God stopped him. Then Abraham looked, and there was ram caught in a thicket, and he sacrificed the animal in Isaac’s place. It says instead of his son. Redemption on the scale of the universe is what God did for us when he sacrificed his son for us. God provided the ram for Abraham, and he provided his son for the sin of the world. There was no split-second stop when Jesus died on the same mountain almost 2000 years later. Here is a story that points to Calvary and the fact that God sacrificed his son instead of you and me.